Minnetrista is reviving talk of finishing the gun range at its public safety building, officials having discussed at a recent work session that such a move could give law enforcement opportunity for “scenario-based” firearms training while also alleviating the overtime costs and scheduling difficulties that the police chief said has come with having to train at private ranges.

“In this day and age, the demand for increased training and more in-depth training is more than ever,” said Minnetrista Police Chief Paul Falls during the Sept. 20 discussion. “It’s vitally important that we continue to keep up and provide the training that we need to and provide the means to do that.”

The Minnetrista police department had moved into the public safety building adjacent to City Hall in 2010.

Built with the intention of eventually housing a gun range, the facility now has inside of it the empty shell of a future range that Falls said is “not really useable for anything else.”

Public opinion at the time of the building construction was decidedly against finishing the indoor range. A 2011 community survey had shown that 69 percent of people were at the time not in favor of completing it.

That opinion then changed over the next few years, and a similar survey in 2017 showed a complete reversal: 69 percent of people in that year had viewed the completion of the range favorably.

Council member Pam Mortenson said she suspected that public opinion could be even more in favor of it now than it was four years ago, in part due to the likelihood that the city would open the range for some level of public use.

“Times have changed since 2017, and I think a lot more people are gun owners,” she said. “I think a lot more people would be more interested in using a gun range, and I think any support we can give our police right now is definitely the majority of the city.”

Minnetrista police officers now do firearms training at Minnetonka Sportsmen Club in Mound, but Chief Falls said that while this arrangement has worked for a while, the club’s increasing membership has made it also increasingly challenging to schedule training for his officers.

Added to that challenge is the need to pay overtime for the six-times-a-year sessions because on any given day, there might be eight to 12 officers not on duty but who would still have to come in for a minimum 3 hours of training. A range on site that could be used by officers during their regular shifts could erase that overtime.

There’s also the question of what type of training can be done at a public range like the Sportsmen Club. Falls said that law enforcement doesn’t get any exemptions, and that his officers are not able to pursue what he called “scenario-based” training with live firearms, or a kind of training that most closely mimics the reality of the field in a hostile situation.

“The ranges just aren’t set up specifically for law enforcement-type, scenario-based training, which is so important,” he said.

Falls said his preference for Minnetrista, should the range at the public safety building be completed, is a block trap range. A block trap range has a smaller footprint and is generally more cost effective in its maintenance than is a granular trap range, he sai

It also eliminates ricochet and allows computerized images to be projected onto the blocks.

“So, you’re doing live fire, scenario-based training, which is as realistic as you can possibly get,” said Falls. “That’s the future of training. Everything’s gone to scenario-based training, and it’s been going that way for years and now in the past couple years that’s become really the benchmark we’d like to get to.

Should it be completed, the city is expecting to open the gun range to the public during designated hours as a way to help offset operating costs, which as yet are unknown. Also unknown are how those costs would be supported, whether through some kind of membership or user fee or even partnering with other law enforcement agencies.

The only “firm” number for completion of the range is its initial capital cost, which Falls said would be around $350,000 and which would likely come out of the Crime Prevention Fund.

“Law enforcement training is absolutely essential. And it needs to be quality, it needs to be consistent, and it needs to be ongoing,” said Falls. “There is no doubt in my mind that, the public piece aside, is it worth finishing this range for that reason alone? Absolutely.”

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